Scarlett Johansson Talks Under The Skin

scarjo-embedPhoto: Courtesy of A24 Films.
It's a busy time for Scarlett Johansson. She's filming the next installment of The Avengers series and just saw the debut of Captain America. She's got a baby on the way. Oh, and she's still nailing it with the whole style thing. But, she's also continuing to broaden her horizons as an actor. Case in point: her new role in Under The Skin. In the new film, Johansson plays an extraterrestrial who lures men to their deaths. And, in many ways, the movie posed a lot of firsts for the actress. Not only was it her first sci-fi flick, but it's also the first time Johansson's gone full-nudity on film. We had a chance to join a handful of other reporters to speak with her about the film. Ahead, what it was like to play, well, an alien. Warning: spoilers ahead.
In the film, your character fell for the one guy who was kind of a gentleman and chivalrous — you know, he even carried her over the puddle — so, I guess my question is do you feel like those kinds of actions of chivalry are kind of lacking in society today?
“I think what my character responded to more than that character’s chivalry was his kindness actually, or rather, at that point in her kind of transition, she was able to accept help. I don’t know that she necessarily looked at him and suddenly found him to be incredibly dreamy. I don’t think any of that is relevant to her experience. If you’re asking if I think chivalry is lost or whatever, no, not in my experience. I don’t know any other way, I guess. It’d be different if you asked someone of a different generation. It’s not like I remember ‘way back when,’ when people were way more chivalrous. I’ve experienced chivalry, you know, occasionally.”
Thinking about the scene where your character left the crying child by the water, and then later on in the scene where your character is attacked in the woods, which one of those was more emotionally difficult for you to film?
“Of course, when we shot that scene with the child, again, my character at that point, any sort of guilt, any kind of empathy or sympathy she would have for that child crying, those emotions are sort of irrelevant to her. Not necessarily that she’s bad; they’re just not relevant. At that point — I think we shot that scene later, sort of halfway through the production — at that point I’d already realized that if it was the phase before that character’s cracks kind of form, then they turn into a kind of fissure and then crevice, or whatever, she’s sort of coming out of this shell or being born.
Before that happens and she’s still much a part of something else, before she starts to individualize, it was really important to kind of wash myself of any of those things, any of those kind of human emotions — whether it was, you know, empathy or fear, other than like primal fear or self-doubt, or humility — all those things. I had to be free and liberated of them, and be sort of in a meditative, present state of focus because that’s what the role required. And so, that scene — obviously the child was safe, and we all knew that — I had no emotions free of that, I suppose.
Later on, when the character is running through the woods, that’s pure fear. It was terrifying, especially because of the conditions we were shooting in, and also the other person playing that was not an actor, and so I didn’t know really the same kind of rules that apply between two actors didn’t really apply between us. I didn’t feel safe at all. That was much more challenging, I think. Not challenging necessarily; it was just terrifying.”
This is arguably probably the most revealing role in your career, and although the nudity wasn’t sexual — surprisingly, even in your backward steps — what made you decide that this was the right role and the right moment in your career to do that?
“I think in some ways you have to look at the nudity and sort of assume that it’s going to be a screenshot for someone, and you kind of have to weigh the value of the risk that you’re taking. You know, ‘Is this gratuitous? Is this a vanity project? Is this an important part of this character’s journey to self-discovery? What’s the gain?’
Of course Jonathan, the last thing he wanted to do was take the audience out of the story and have this nude-y alien shot or whatever. It was not his intention at all. And, certainly going into it, we talked about it, and he was like, ‘I do not want that, so if that’s at all apparent or if the value as a means of storytelling suddenly is overshadowed by the freak factor of it — for lack of a better term — then I’m not going to put it in.’
Just knowing that the door was always kind of open, that it would be there if it was right made me much more comfortable, because I’m not a particularly provocative person. It’s not like I live to be photographed in the buff or anything like that. Of course, it actually made me really aware when I was doing it of all the kind of judgments, and all of these things we would place on ourselves like how self-conscious you can be about yourself and the way you look and your own vanity. Because I had to, again, be liberated of that and it was really interesting. It was challenging, but it was interesting. I was like, ‘Wow, I really am self-conscious about this,’ or, ‘Wow, I really am holding on to this idea that I should look like that,’ or whatever it is. We all have it. I guess as a woman, we may even have it more.”

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